Innovative farming technologies awarded £9.13 million in funding

Three cutting-edge projects relating to robotics and automation will receive a share of £9.13 million through the government’s Farming Innovation Programme, aimed at boosting agricultural productivity, sustainability and climate resilience.

Stock photo for illustration purposes only.

The funding will support projects developing robotic crop harvesting for horticulture, an autonomous system to change cows’ bedding to improve their health, welfare and productivity, and an environmentally-friendly approach to potato cultivation.

The three winning projects have been awarded grants through the Large R&D Partnership competition, part of the government’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme, a second round of which is currently open for applications.

The Farming Innovation Programme is part of the government’s commitment to spend around £600 million on grants to provide support for farmers to invest in productivity, animal health and welfare, innovation, research and development over three years. Funding for the programme is provided from the £2.4 billion annual farming budget.

Alongside the ongoing roll-out of the Environmental Land Management schemes, the grants will help deliver long-term sustainable food production and support farmers to halt and reverse the decline of nature as set out in the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “It’s important that we fund projects like these – and those still to come in future rounds – as we support farmers to deliver sustainable food production and protect the environment.”

Meanwhile, Katrina Hayter, Interim Executive Director Healthy Living & Agriculture, Innovate UK, commented:

“These projects have all demonstrated not only an innovative solution to a real-life, on-farm problem, but also the value of partnerships and collaboration between different sector experts. For novel technology to truly succeed, it needs the input of the farmers themselves for the day-to-day realities of its use.”

“We’re really pleased that these partnerships have this idea at their core, and we now look forward to working with them as they develop their solutions further and bring the benefits to life.”

Successful projects offer innovative solutions to practical problems

With labour shortages affecting the horticulture sector around the world, automation offers huge opportunities to reduce costs and labour requirements. Led by APS Produce, the Agri-Opencore project has been awarded over £3.8m to accelerate the delivery of robotic crop systems for horticulture.

The funding will help the project create the world’s first open development platform (software and hardware) for agri-robotic crop harvesting.

The open development platform will enable multiple organisations to contribute, allowing cross-sector collaboration and demonstration of technologies on English farms. It is hoped that the project will help accelerate the adoption of robotic picking by two years.

APS Produce head grower Phil Pearson said: “The Agri-Opencore robotics project is an exciting and vital project for the fresh produce industry. It promises to deliver the significant progress required to automate fresh produce harvesting in the UK.

“As this work brings leading technology providers, Dogtooth, Xihelm and Wootzano, with the academic excellence of the University of Lincoln team, we can expect significant progress towards autonomous harvesting,” he added.

Aimed at the development of an autonomous cow cubicle bedding unit, the AG ARC project, led by Garnett Farm Engineering, has been awarded over £2.5m in funding.

Careful cubicle management and keeping the bedding dry and clean is vital to cow comfort, which is a key factor in reducing the risk of mastitis.

The project aims to reduce the need for manual labour by developing an intelligent robotic cubicle bedder to monitor and respond to key sensor data to optimise dispensing of bedding. This will help to boost cow health and welfare, improve farm productivity and reduce costs through efficient use of bedding.

Andrew Garnett, director at AG Products, said: “We look forward to collaborating with the University of Liverpool on this exciting project to further enhance our cattle bedding solutions to farmers, improving cow welfare and productivity.

“Our passion for innovation has seen the recent launch of the AG Duo; the AG ARC will further revolutionise the industry’s approach to cattle bedding.”

The third project to be awarded funding, Potato-LITE, is set to explore optimised systems for potato cultivation. Current systems require the soil to be cultivated to create a deep and uniform seedbed, free from stones and clods, to provide a favourable environment for potato growth.

Whilst reduced tillage technologies have enabled regenerative agriculture in cereal systems, this technology has not been developed for the production of potatoes and other root crops.

Having received funding of £2.83m, Potato-LITE will transform potato tillage through developing new cultivation equipment and systems, delivered through a leading partnership between food manufacturers (PepsiCo and McCain), a machinery manufacturer (Grimme), growers (Strawson Ltd, JRO Griffiths, H Sutton & Son and JM Bubb & Son) and research organisations (Cranfield University, Harper Adams University and CHAP).

To apply for round two of the Large R&D Partnerships competition, visit the government website here.

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